TOWN halls should be punished if their schemes to improve the behaviour of ‘troubled families' flop, MPs say today (Friday).

Their report calls for “sanctions” against councils that fail to change the lives of people with social problems ranging from poverty to low skills and bad housing.

It follows criticism that fewer than 100 people across the region have found work through the scheme, launched after the 2011 summer riots.

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Latest figures show councils in the North-East and North Yorkshire have started work with more than 5,000 families identified as “troubled” – up to three-quarters of the total.

But only 1,697 successes have been chalked up, including in County Durham (312), Darlington (37), Middlesbrough (126), Stockton-on-Tees (173) and North Yorkshire (238).

And the figures also show that only 93 people in those 1,697 families – just 5.5 per cent – have found permanent work.

Not a single person has found a job in Darlington or Hartlepool and very small numbers in Middlesbrough (six), Sunderland (three) and County Durham (14).

Now the Commons public accounts committee (PAC) has warned the scheme, announced by David Cameron himself, is on course to “miss its targets”.

Across England, success has been chalked up in the lives of 22,000 families, leaving a further 98,000 to be “turned around” by May 2015.

And a parallel project, run by the department for work and pensions (DWP), has put only four per cent of the expected number of people into jobs.

Margaret Hodge, the PAC’s Labour chairwoman, condemned the “baffling decision” to run two separate programmes, leading to “confusion and unnecessary duplication”.

And she said: “There have been big variations in performance, which put achieving the programmes’ objectives at risk.

“The departments must ensure that performance in each local authority, and by each contractor, is scrutinised, giving appropriate support where appropriate - but also imposing sanctions where necessary.”

The PAC report did not identify any worst offenders and its call for councils to face sanctions – for a Government scheme - is likely to be controversial.

Families are classed as ‘troubled’ if members are judged to have at least five characteristics from a seven-strong list.

They are:

  • no work, poor quality housing, no qualifications, mental health problems, long-standing disability, low income and in ability to afford food or clothing.

Councils are paid up to £4,000 for each family they help. At the start, 80 per cent - or £3,200 – was paid upfront, reducing to 40 per cent in 2014-15.

Ministers have insisted the scheme is “on track” to meet the prime minister’s pledge to transform the lives of 120,000 problem families by 2015.